Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Israeli Circus and the Upcoming Elections (Israeli 2013 Election Coverage, 5)

In the run up to elections, the Israeli political scene has proven to be as exciting as a Grand Circus. During the last month, we witnessed a great number of breathtaking political moves, such as Ehud Barak’s decision to “leave politics,” Tzipi Livni’s founding of a one-election party, the offended Amir Peretz, leaving the Labor party, only to join Livni, and the indictment and resignation of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is poised to return in the near future.

Clearly, the ringmaster of this circus is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has proven once again that he is a superb politician, with all parties courting him even before the elections. In one ring, he has Shelly Yahimovich, Yair Lapid, and Tzipi Livni providing the opening act as the Center Acrobats: Shelly jumping up and down on a trampoline, Tzipi impressing all of us with her ability to do multiple somersaults, and Yair mesmerizing us with his steady tightrope performance. Oh, yes, we forgot Shaul Mofaz; due to his poor performance in auditions, he is the ticket collector, who doubles as the usher.

On the other side of the circus is the extreme right Jewish Home party, set to double their parliament seats in the elections, standing strong in the Lion’s Den. In coalition negotiations, Netanyahu may choose to open the cage and threaten the center parties to accept the consequences of a narrow right coalition being formed if they don’t compromise. Clearly, Netanyahu as the ringmaster does not really need the Center Acrobats; in addition to the Lion, he can rely on the boring elephants that for years just walk in circles, wanting only to be fed and kept warm by the state. Of course, I am referring to the Sephardic Shas party, and the United Torah Judaism Haredi party.

I forgot to mention that even if this circus invites all to participate as spectators, regardless of race, religions, or sexual preference, in order to take part in the circus itself, you must adhere to basic Zionist ideology. However, don’t worry. For anti-Zionists there is an alternative circus tent! It is often referred to as the “Arab Tent” and includes parties, such as Hadash (affiliated with Israeli Communist party), and Balad (a party calling for a liberal democracy based on citizenship), both which also find support among Israeli Jews. The Grand Circus does not interfere in the Arab Tent’s show on a regular basis; however, last week, its election committee disqualified MP Haneen Zoabi from participating in her own tent! This decision will most likely be overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court, who is in desperate need of the Arab Tent in order to justify Israel as a country where tents have equal rights.

It is within this Grand Circus that Israeli politics have played out for years, and it is a marvel how spectators year after year come and join the show.  There was a time last year, during the summer, when the circus sales dropped radically, with thousands of Israelis setting up opposing tents along Rothschild, demanding that a new circus be established. However, with little effort, the Ringmaster Netanyahu succeeded in convincing most to return, and now is set to run the show for another five years.   

Monday, December 17, 2012

Delving into Ottoman Palestine (a link to Ottoman History Podcast)

Here is a link to a recent podcast, where I discuss my upcoming book, which has the tentative title: Ottoman Palestine: The Rise of Jewish Hegemony and Palestinian protest.  In this podcast, I offer my interpretations relating to both the Palestinian and Jewish populations, while focusing on the need to reassess the past history. For the Palestinians, I explain how a Palestinian identity, Palestinianism, dates back to the early 20th century. As for the Jewish community, I argue that for many Zionism was not necessarily a separatist movement, but one that was working to integrate into the Ottoman political world. It was in this reality that the Palestinian-Jewish conflict began in Ottoman Palestine, a period often neglected by historians.  

For my readers, this is also a great opportunity to learn about the Ottoman History Podcast series, a brilliant source for Ottoman history, where there are over 80 podcasts, featuring renowned names in Ottoman history. 

I would also like to thank Chris Gratien and Emrah Safa Gurkan for the great program and interesting questions (not to mention praise to the podcast series)! 

For those interested there is also a useful bibliography to direct you to some historical articles of mine, and related books by other authors.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Israel, Now or Never: 10 Points concerning the Jewish State's future (Israeli 2013 Election Coverage, 4)

Following the UN vote recognizing Palestine as a non-member state, Israel decided to show their appreciation by declaring the building of 3000 housing units in the West Bank. If that was not enough, a day later, it was announced that Israel would hold funds earmarked for the Palestinians. Yes, it seems that the Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his FM, Avigdor Lieberman are holding true to their statements that they would work to topple Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, if he preceded to the UN vote.

Despite bringing Israel to one of its lowest places ever in terms of world support, Netanyahu and Lieberman's newly joint election list, Likud Beitenu, appear as if they are set for victory. Most polls place them at receiving between 35-40 seats (out of 120), with the center and center-left parties completely divided. There is no doubt that such an outcome will be detrimental to the future of Israel.

Below are 10 points, made up of comments and questions concerning Israel's future. As a historian, I do not usually look into the future; however, these issues have been on my mind for some time, and I thought I would share them. Further, as a citizen of the Israeli state, and a father of a daughter living there, I obviously have an agenda and a stake in its future. The period of silence is over.   

1. Without a doubt, a Israel refusing to move forward on the peace process and to negotiate with the new Palestinian state, could be met with diplomatic and economic sanctions. While it is highly unlikely that this will happen just "one spring morning," it is an obvious extension of the world's message to Israel: move forward with peace, or else.  

2. Along the same line, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement has the chance to grow significantly. Public activism against Israel has received a new surge of energy, and it seems like they will seize the moment.  Now that the world has recognized a Palestinian state, the work of the BDS will be all the easier. In short, Israel will become more and more isolated.

3. The American Jewish community needs to come to terms with the fact that they cannot support a Jewish state at all costs. In fact, if Israel does “act in the name of the Jewish people,” then it’s high time that American Jews understand that now is the time to get involved and pressure Israel to recognize the international mandate for a Palestinian state.  A global pact of Jewish groups from such countries as Argentina, Great Britain, and France, among the many others, might also be of special significance. The fact J-Street came out in support of Israel at the beginning of the Gaza campaign, shows that the liberal Jewish community needs to take a much clearer stance; in fact, following the recognition of the Palestinian state, some Jewish communities in the US came out in support of Palestine and are voicing their opposition to the new settlement plans. 

4. The Israeli peace camp needs to reorganize independently of the center parties, who have only shown us that they are incompetent of leading a true movement. In fact, during this election campaign we have seen how incompetent the Israeli center politicians are, beginning with Shelly Yachimovich, Amir Peretz, Shaul Mofaz, Tzipi Livni, Yair Lapid (and the list goes on). The only real leader in Israel today is Benjamin Netanyahu; sad to say, but true. 

5. The only alternative the peace camp has is Meretz, the Zionist Left party, and Hadash, the (Jewish-Arab) Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, which is affiliated with the Israel Communist Party. While it is unlikely that these parties will actually ever have the chance to run the country, it would be interesting to see how the Israeli society might flourish under political parties which actually could offer the Israeli citizen a safe and secure home, for both Jews and Palestinian-Israelis (the Palestinians within Israel proper, who have Israeli citizenship and makeup 20% of the population). 

6. Regardless if the Jewish population do not see fit to vote for the non/anti-Zionist parties, like Hadash, or Balad (a Palestinian party supporting a more radical agenda of equality for all citizens, which leans towards a One-State solution), they should at least open their eyes to the fact that there is a 20% Palestinian minority in their state. Building true bridges with Palestinians within Israel could be an important step to reaching peace and equality for all in the region. Also, it could also show the Israeli Jews a third way, one where Zionism can be retained culturally, but does not need to equal political hegemony. 

7. There is a real danger that a Netanyahu-Lieberman team, following the elections, in a moment of desperation, could set out to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank, using the Separation Wall as a border; in essence, ending hopes that Jerusalem will be a shared capital of Israel and Palestine. All eyes need remain open to such a scenario. We know from Lebanon and Gaza, unilateral pullouts lead to continued violence. Peace can only be achieved through negotiations.

8. The Palestinians also need to seize the moment, unite all of their factions, and call new elections. No matter what type of government is elected, they will need to continue down the path Mahmoud Abbas has paved: one of diplomacy. This is the only way they will succeed in reaching full statehood. As an Israeli citizen, I will stop here since saying more would be presumptuous on my behalf.  They have plenty of peace-loving people on their side. The point is too build bridges together. 

9. In light of President Obama’s support of Israel, in the near future, he will need to come up with a major-policy shift, addressing Palestinian needs.  Obama won the Nobel Peace prize even before he made any real attempts at peace; now is the time to show us that this was not in vain. 

10. Israel, with its walls, fences, and Iron Dome to protect it skies, has become the largest gated community in the world. This is certainly not the Jewish haven Zionists had in mind. If Israel invested in peace, what it has invested in arms, then it is safe to say they would be living in a  a country where their children, along with the whole region, would thrive. After 45 years of occupation, and a century of violence, Israeli politicians have lead their citizens down a dead-end road. The time has come for the citizens to ask themselves how their own nationalism could be what has kept Israel in such a vicious circle of violence for so many years. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Filistin’in buruk zaferi, İsrail’e güçlü bir mesaj (Turkish Version)*

The UN Vote; Photo from Al-Quds Newspaper website.
Birkaç gün önce Filistin’e, Birleşmiş Milletler tarafından üye olmayan devlet statüsü verildi. Her ne kadar Filistin’in meşru devlet statüsüne sahip olmak için yapması gereken daha çok şey olsa da, tüm dünyaya Betı Şeria ve Gazze Şeridi’nde bir Filistin devleti olması gerektiğinin haklı duyurusunu gerçekleştirmiş oldu. Filistin Cumhurbaşkanı  Mahmoud Abbas, halkının bugün bu noktaya gelmesini sağlayan stratejilerinden dolayı tebrik edilmeli.

Son günlere bakarsak, İsrail cephesinde bu tarihi oylamanın bir önemi olmadığını vurgulamak için gerçekleştirdiği yoğun çalışmalar karşımıza çıkıyor. Her halükȃrda İsrail hükümetinin tutumu, nasıl da gerçek dışı hareket ettiklerini ortaya koyuyor. Başbakan Netanyahu ve Dışişleri Bakanı Lieberman’ın bu oylama sonucu büyük bir yenilgiye uğradıklarını; daha fazla toprak alabilmek için barış sürecini sekteye uğratarak yaptıkları her şey için bir bedel ödediklerini de kabul etmeleri gerekiyor. Asıl önemli olan şeyin bu noktada dile getirilmesi gerekiyor: Filistin’e verilen oylar, İsraillilere aslında “Büyük İsrail” planının yalnızca bir rüyadan ibaret olduğunu gösteriyor.

Palestinians Celebrating from Al-Quds Newspaper Website
Bu oylama, 1948 yılından önceki Filistin’in olmasa da Batı Şeria ve Gazze Şeridi’nin sömürgeleşmeden kurtulmaya başladığını gözler önüne seriyor. İsraillilerin şu soruları hem politikacılarına hem de kendilerine sormaları gerekiyor: Politikacılar son 45 yıldır sivil ve politik hakları gözetmeksizin meşru olarak büyük bir kitleye hükmettikleri fikrine neden sıkı sıkıya bağlılar? İsrail halkı adaletsizlikleri neden görmezden gelip herkese sırt çevirdiler? Belki de süregelen çatışmaların ağır yorgunluğu tüm bu kötü gelişmelere sebebiyet vermiştir.

Daha iyimser olmak isterdim ancak geleceğe şüpheyle yaklaşıyorum. Bundan böyle olacaklar her iki taraf için de oldukça acılı olacak. Şiddet, bir anda nasıl olduğu anlaşılmaksızın kontrolü yeniden ele geçirebilir. Bundan dolayı her iki tarafın da kendi içerisindeki problemleri halletmek için elinden geleni yapması ve bu sayede barış için ortak bir paydada buluşması önem teşkil ediyor. Unutmamak gerekir ki bundan tam 65 yıl önce Filistin'de, Araplar ve Yahudiler arasındaki kanlı savaşın tam ortasına atılmış; her iki tarafın nüfusunun yüzde birinin yok olmasına ve günümüze kadar gelen göçmen problemine neden olmuştu.

Son olarak, hem Filistin’de hem de İsrail’de bu konu üzerine şüpheyle yaklaşan kesimler yalnız tek bir devlet olması; liberal demokrasinin getirdiği temel ilkelerin kabul edilmesi ve her iki tarafın yalnız bir bayrak altında yaşaması gerektiğini savunuyorlar. Ben ise iki ayrı devlet oluşumundan yanayım: Eğer bu kaos sonucunda barış elde edilirse sınırlar olmaksızın iki devletin varlığı, konfederasyon oluşumu ya da tek bir devlet olma gibi her iki taraf içinde yapıcı çözümlere ulaşabiliriz. Her halukȃrda tüm bu çözümlere nihai kararı halkların vermesi kanaatindeyim.

Şimdilik, son gelişmeleri göz önünde bulundurarak önce Filistin’i ve ardından Filistinlileri kutluyorum. İstanbul’daki evimden Birleşmiş Milletler’in oylamasını izlerken Filistinliler ve İsrailliler bir arada Filistin’in özgürlüğü için katıldığımız onca gösteri, döktüğümüz onca gözyaşı, kimi zaman yaşadığımız üzüntü ve sevinçler aklıma geldi. Önceleri, İsrail devletinin yanında özgür Filistin devletinin olması gerektiği çok uzak bir ihtimal gibi görünürken, bugün bu fikir hiç olmadığı kadar yakınımızda ve bir o kadar da gerçek.

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*Bu makale İngilizceden tercüme edilmiştir: "This Time for Palestine: A Melancholy Victory and a Strong Message to Israel" (30.11.2012)